Is the tail wagging the dog in your genealogy research? Resist the temptation to jump at each hint and online family tree. Instead, take the lead in your own research and follow the scent of each clue with genealogical best practices. Here’s how…
Almost as soon as you start adding information to your family tree on any of the major genealogy records sites (Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast) you will start getting suggestions. These suggestions are known by a variety of names on the various sites, such as hints, Shaky Leaves, Smart Matches, record matches, etc. No matter what they’re called, they can be a great way to quickly make even more progress in growing your family tree.
There’s an old saying: you get what you pay for. In the case of hints, you have technically paid for them by subscribing to the genealogy website’s service. However, you didn’t pay for them through careful research following solid genealogical methodology. You haven’t yet verified their accuracy, or in the case of suggested online family tree, verified their sources.
Online family trees are one of the most common types of hints you’ll receive. And it’s no wonder: there are billions of names entered in online family trees*, so your tree is very likely to match some of them.
However, with all those matching trees there are bound to be problems. If you’ve been wondering about the reliability and usability of other people’s online family trees being recommended as hints, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn more about using information gleaned from other’s online family trees.
The question of trusting online family trees
Brenda is a Premium eLearning member, and she wrote me recently with a question about using online family trees: “I’m just getting back into my genealogy research after 10 years of not having time. It seems that research has completely changed to online work! I’m getting [hints that link to other] family lines, but can I trust them?”
And this related question comes from Douglas:
“Weekly, I get emails with family tree matches, asking me to confirm the match. My problem is not with the matching but with when I dig into their tree, the source for their information is another tree. That info may be a clue but I learned way back that the info needed to be backed up by good primary and sometimes secondary sources, not what somebody thought was right. Info that I entered in my tree years ago and found subsequently to be wrong is still hanging out in a dozen trees. What is your opinion?”
My guess is that at some point you’ve had some of the same questions as Brenda and Douglas. Am I right? Well, even though it’s exciting to find someone who’s already built a family tree that includes your ancestors, it’s important to proceed with caution. Avoid the temptation to “graft” or copy the tree onto your tree.
That’s not to say you should ignore online trees. Instead, let’s discuss how reliable they are and how to use them wisely and responsibly.
How to use online family trees as hints
Douglas has stated the problem accurately. The researchers behind those tantalizing trees may have made mistakes or copied unfounded information without verifying it. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.
Once copied to one tree, incorrect information can easily get picked up by others and copied over and over again. And the problem is made worse because the more it’s copied, the more unskilled researchers may assume it must be accurate because they see everyone using it. It’s a vicious circle indeed!
Mistakes can happen in online family trees
Approach every online hint and tree as a clue – a lead – to be considered and scrutinized. You won’t know the accuracy of it for sure until you review the research and verify the sources. That being said, the next logical questions would be “how in the world will I have enough time to verify all of the information in all of these trees?”
The answer is, you don’t.
Instead, do your own genealogical research first, one person and one generation at a time. Work from the present generation backward and learn everything you can from known and trusted primary and secondary sources. If this idea sounds new to you, I strongly encourage you to start listening to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. It’s free, and available here on my website, as well as through all major podcast apps. If you’re new to genealogy or returning after a long spell, this podcast will cover the basics in genealogical research and help you get on track.
It’s easy to let other people’s online trees give you a false sense that you are quickly and easily building your own family tree, but it’s just not true. A tree worth having is a tree worth researching. Don’t let the tail wag the dog here. Follow the proven genealogical research process, and then tap into online family trees when you need a fresh new lead.
Automated record hints and matches
On genealogy websites, you’ll get two types of automated hints or matches. The first is for other people’s trees, which we’ve already discussed. The second is for historical genealogical records.
In order to deliver the historical record hint, the website has compared the data on your tree with the data available in the transcriptions of their records. Since many people share the same name and other distinguishing characteristics like birth dates, it’s important to look at each record closely and carefully.
Review both the record transcription and the digitized image of the document (when available), keeping in mind that not all the useful genealogical data is always transcribed. And in the process of transcribing, errors may have been made.
You first want to evaluate whether this document pertains to your relative. Next, you will need to determine what else it adds to your knowledge of them. Compare what that document says to what you’ve already learned about your family. Watch for multiple, specific pieces of evidence that support or are consistent with what you already know.
Genealogy Giants guru Sunny Morton says that “record hints on Genealogy GiantsFamilySearch and MyHeritage are especially known for a high degree of accuracy; Ancestry.com’s are generally pretty good, too, but the site is clear about reminding you that these are just hints. I don’t have data on how accurate Findmypast hinting is, but I do know that they’ve been adding more records to the pool of records they hint on, and that’s also good.”
After reviewing all the record hints you’ve received, conduct additional searches yourself for records about each ancestor. Use the same process described above to scrutinize and evaluate each record.
Remember that even a digitized record hosted on one of the major websites can have transcription, spelling, or other errors, and sometimes you’ll have to make judgment calls. There’s no substitute for your brain! And there’s no substitute for carefully verifying and documenting every discovery as you go.
Next steps for using hints and trees wisely
By using hints for online family trees and historical records as leads when needed rather than the main path to follow will help you build an accurate family tree.
We are here to help you take control of your family tree and your research every step of the way. For specific information about reviewing record hints, read Getting started on Ancestry.com.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
A video archive of oral history interviews about African-American life, history and culture and struggles and achievements of the black experience in the United States has been donated to the Library of Congress.
It’s called the HistoryMakers archive, and it’s the single largest archival project of its kind since the WPA recordings of former slaves in the 1930s. According toa press release, “The collection includes 9,000 hours of content that includes 14,000 analog tapes, 3,000 DVDs, 6,000 born-digital files, 70,000 paper documents and digital files and more than 30,000 digital photographs.”
“The collection comprises 2,600 videotaped interviews with African-Americans in 39 states, averaging three to six hours in length. The videos are grouped by 15 different subject areas ranging from science, politics and the military to sports, music and entertainment.”
“The HistoryMakers archive provides invaluable first-person accounts of both well-known and unsung African-Americans, detailing their hopes, dreams and accomplishments—often in the face of adversity,” said James Billington, the Librarian of Congress. “This culturally important collection is a rich and diverse resource for scholars, teachers, students and documentarians seeking a more complete record of our nation’s history and its people.”
“The collection is one of the most well-documented and organized audiovisual collections that the Library of Congress has ever acquired,” said Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section. “It is also one of the first born-digital collections accepted into our nation’s repository.”
This African American oral history archive was donated so it would be preserved and accessible to generations yet to come. However, this doesn’t mean the HistoryMakers organization is done gathering stories. According to the press release, “oral histories are continually being added to the growing archive. The oldest person interviewed was Louisiana Hines, who passed away in 2013 at 114. She was one of the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” workers during War World II. One of the youngest is a prima ballerina, Ayisha McMillan, who was 29 at the time of her interview.”
In Elevenses with Lisa episode 79 Lisa Louise Cooke explains:
How to find 1950 US Census Enumeration District (ED) Maps
The purpose behind them and how to interpret the maps
Ways to use the maps for your genealogy
This is a follow up to episode 51 on The 1950 Census for Genealogy. In that episode I discussed the importance of finding your ancestors’ enumeration district numbers in order to be able to find them when the digitized images are released (before the index is available.) In this episode I will walk you through how to locate the enumeration district (ED) number and then find the actual 1950 US Census ED map. We’ll wrap things up with a quick update on the release of the 1950 US Federal Census.
Episode 79 Show Notes
(Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.)
As I mentioned in Elevenses with Lisa episode 51 The 1950 Census for Genealogy, prior to 1880, U.S. Marshalls were the enumerators for the federal decennial census. Starting with the 1880 census enumerators were hired and they were each assigned an enumeration district, also known as an ED. These districts had to be mapped out so that the enumerators knew the area they were responsible for counting. Therefore, maps are drawn in anticipation of each census being taken, including the 1950 census.
Learn more by watching episode 51 on the 1950 census.
About the 1950 US Census Maps
It’s always important to understand the purpose of a record or source, and the 1950 Enumeration District maps (ED maps) are no exception. Unlike most maps where it’s all about accurately drawing up the current roads and geographical features, census ED maps are drawn up for the purpose of defining boundaries for the purpose of counting people. This means as we look at ED maps we need to keep a few things in mind.
The first thing to understand is that the 1950 ED maps were not necessarily up-to-date with the lay of the land in 1950. Not all streets, parks and features will be included. The reason for this is that the maps themselves were not created for this purpose. Existing maps were used and then enumeration district boundaries were drawn on them.
Maps came from a variety of sources including but not limited to county and City Planning Commissions, 1940 census bureau tract maps, and city engineers. In fact, from a mapping perspective the variety of maps in the collection are fascinating.
Look for the map title, description, legend and census stamps typically found in one of the corners. In this example (see image) from Aurora, Colorado the map used was originally created by the city engineer in 1946 and was revised in 1947.
1950 census map of Aurora, Colorado (Source: National Archives)
Following the end of World War II, the United States was growing at a quick pace in 1950. This is particularly true of the newly emerging suburbs. Therefore, if your ancestors built a new home in a new development in 1949, don’t be surprised if you don’t see the street on the 1950 census ED map. However, rest assured that the maps still hold value for your family history as they provide many interesting and unique details about the area surrounding your ancestors’ homes.
Each map was stamped with a small legend where the meaning for each of the colored lines drawn could be indicated. From my random sampling of 1950 census maps across the United States it appears that the coloring coding was consistent as follows:
Red = Township
Green = Corporate Limits/Ward
Orange = Enumeration District
Expect to see errors, inconsistencies and omissions in the maps. The more rural the area the more likely the map was compiled from several sources by the Census Bureau cartographers. This compilation created more opportunity for errors, and often used older maps.
Source: National Archives
The Meaning of Census Enumeration District Numbers
A census enumeration district number is made up of two numbers separated by a dash. The first number (in this example: 1) represents the county/region. The second number represents the area within the county that could be covered by an individual census enumerator within the amount of time provided for taking the census, about 2-4 weeks. The official start of the 1950 US Federal Census was April 1, 1950.
Census enumeration district (ED) numbers on a 1950 census map.
How to Find 1950 Census Maps
Some 8,000 census maps have been digitized and are available at the National Archives. However, the National Archives website can be challenging to navigate. I recommend using the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder Tool at Steve Morse’s website.
1. Go to https:/stevemorse.org
2. In the menu in the upper left corner hover over US Census and in the secondary menu click Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder
3. Select the state from the first drop-down menu.
4. Next select the county.
5. Then select the city.
6. You will then see many enumeration district links listed. In order to find the right one for your ancestor’s home, enter the house number and select the street from the next drop-down menu. Don’t worry about directional parts of the address like west or east unless they are offered in the list of street names.
7. As soon as select the street name, the list of ED numbers should be reduced. In this example we are down to three.
8. To further reduce the possible ED numbers, we can select Cross or back street on same city block. If you’re not sure what the neighboring streets are, click the see Google Map This will plot the address you entered into Google Maps where you can then find the closest cross street, and the next streets over. If the address is not precisely marked on the map, check the address that appears in the Google Maps search box.
In my case, the One-Step tool didn’t allow me to specific W. Arcade, so Google Maps just gave me the general area, and not the address. By adding the W. to the address and pressing enter on my keyboard Google Maps was able to precisely plot the location. Now we can make note of the closest cross street (ex. N. Center), the street north of the address (E. Monterey Ave.) and the street south of the address (W. Noble St.)
9. Head back to the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder page and enter each nearby street (you can enter multiple.) This should reduce the ED numbers one. This is the ED that includes your ancestor’s address.
How to Find 1950 Census Maps
1. Make note of the ED number, and then go back and click the button that says See ED Maps for ____________ County. You could have clicked this button without going through the process of locating the ED number, but the ED number makes it much easier to find your ancestor’s home street on the map. This number will also assist you in being able to find your ancestors in the 1950 census before it is indexed.
2. You will now be on the Viewing 1950 Enumeration District Maps in One Step Re-enter the city from the drop-down menu.
3. Click the Get ED Map Images You will receive two links. The first link is Links to NARA viewer will take you to the page on the National Archives website which includes all of the information about the map and the record hierarchy. Source citation information can be gathered from this page.
5. Click the second link called Direct links to jpegs on NARA server. This will take you to the image by itself as hosted on the National Archives website. I find this the easiest way to save the full resolution image to my computer hard drive. On my PC I right-click on the map and select Save Image As.
This page is also important if you want to use this image in another program such as Google Earth. The URL for this page is the direct URL to the image. Notice that it ends in .jpg. This means that it is the image alone, and this link can be used to create a custom map overlay in Google Earth. You can see an example of a custom map overlay in my video Create a Family History Tour with Google Earth Pro at the 06:13 mark.
If you’re looking for Irish ancestors, you’ll be delighted by all the new Irish record collections added this week! Also in this week’s new and updated record collections are court records and newspapers for Australia, parish records and more for England, millions of new Dutch records, South African probate records, and digitized newspapers across the United States.
Irish Genealogy: Thousands of New Records
If you have ancestors from Ireland who received an army pension between 1724 and 1924, you’ll want to explore Fold3’s new collection of Royal Hospital Kilmainham Pensioner Discharge Documents. This collection is made up of certificates of pensioners of the Royal Kilmainham Hospital in Ireland. According to the collection: “For each record, details given include, where available: a brief description of the pensioner together with age, place of birth, particulars of service and the reason for discharge.”
New this week at Findmypast are Dublin Electoral Rolls. This new collection contains more than 427,000 transcripts and pertains to eligible voters located in the city of Dublin between 1908 and 1915. (FYI: You can also search Dublin City Electoral Lists 1908-1915 and other records for free from the Dublin City Council’s Civil Records webpage.)
Lastly, Irish records got a big update over at the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS): 5,000 records have been added to IGRS’s Early Irish Birth, Marriage, and Death Indexes. This brings their total number of names to almost 260,000. From the announcement: “This particular update draws from a range material: surviving 19th century census records; marriage licence indexes; pre-1922 abstracts from exchequer and chancery court records; memorial inscriptions; biographical notices from newspapers; a large number of long forgotten published works on particular families and places; and memorials from Ireland’s Registry of Deeds.”
New Resources for Australia
A fascinating new free website, Tracing London Convicts in Britain & Australia, 1780-1925 allows “genealogists and family historians to discover the fate of ancestors convicted of crimes and transported overseas.” This new website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty data sets, relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey. Pictured right: Lydia Lloyd, a Victorian era convict. (Image: The National Archives UK ref. PCOM4/71/6 (image 00001))
From the State Library of New South Wales Australia: The Lone Hand (1907-1921) newspaper has been digitized and made available through Trove. “Modelled on the London Strand and founded by J.F. Archibald and Frank Fox, The Lone Hand was a monthly magazine of literature and poetry, with illustrations by significant Australian artists of the time.”
Also new for England, TheGenealogist has added over 1.1 million individuals to its Sussex County parish record collection. This update includes 717,000 baptisms, 213,000 marriages, and 208,000 burials.
Over at Newspapers.com, The Atlasnewspaper has now been digitized. The London area paper operated from 1826 to 1869, and comprised a mixture of national and international social and political news, along with literary, theater, and music reviews. Another new newspaper available online is The Worthington Herald, from 1920-1959 in Worthington, West Sussex, England.
Millions of Dutch Records
FamilySearch has recently published millions of Dutch records (51 million to be exact) from the Netherlands, making it easier than ever to trace your Dutch roots. These new records have increased FamilySearch’s collection of Dutch names from 4,074,736 to over 55 million. From the collection description: “Archives around the Netherlands have contributed indexes which cover many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records.” Click here to search the collection.
North Carolina.Saint Mary’s Student School Newspaper, The Belles, is now online. Dating back to 1936 through 1995, the paper gives a good look into the viewpoint of North Carolina teen women over a 60 year period.
New Mexico. Now available at Newspapers.com is the Albuquerque Journal, with issues dating back to 1882. Almost 2 million pages are available to browse by date.
There’s a wealth of information about your ancestors in newspapers! Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, provides you with a foolproof research process for discovering them, and is stuffed with everything you need for genealogical success. Available in both print and ebook formats, you’ll get step-by-step instructions, worksheets, tons of free online resources, case studies, and more!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!